When I’m eating Saskatoon berries, people passing by either ask or illuminate me with the stare of suspiciousness. What is a Saskatoon berry? I will get to that in a moment. But first, let me tell you about an encounter that I had while grazing on these.
As I was all about “oh my, they are so good, so good, I need more” I heard “are these edible?” behind me. I turned and saw a strange sight. A person wearing a reddish piece of cloth that descended to his feet. Maybe it was a light blanket. Similarly like people wear these blanket-like covers in the freezing heights of Patagonia. He came closer. A long stick was in his hand. He didn’t seem to hold it like you would hold a cane. More like he was ready to defend himself from wild animals. He had something else with him but I didn’t notice what that was. Nothing in his appearance was contemporary. Not more than 30. Long hair, in a neat ponytail. Although he had a clean look, “a Native Indian, homeless” thoughts were sprinting back and forth in my mind. However, they evaporated in a few moments. Too fresh were his words for a someone who had to endure the “romanticism” of street living. Along with some other things, he said that he is doing yoga or on his way to do yoga – something like that. All his appearance and way of talking sparkled with life, freshness and child-like straightforwardness. Through the lively eyes and smile I saw the ability to think very clearly. He also said that he doesn’t get out into the nature often because “they keep us inside”. It sounded like he is a slave to someone. “That’s getting interesting”, I thought. Later, “they” turned out to be his employer – he simply works inside. The conversation lasted for no more than five minutes. And then off he was on his way to the past or future… or nearest Starbucks, who knows. Or yoga, like he mentioned.
A very mysterious encounter that was. Okay, now the berry itself.
A tiny navish apple
This berry has a look of a blueberry. However, many other aspects are different. Unlike blueberries it grows on a pretty tall shrub, which can be as high as a young aspen. And its only home is North American prairies and plains. Besides, it’s not a berry at all. It’s a fruit. To make it even more different: Saskatoon berry is more closely related to an apple than a blueberry. Moreover, unlike a spoiled blueberry, it’s happy in a variety of conditions – as long as there is enough organic soil and sunshine. Like apples, the more sunshine there is, the faster the berries ripen. Also, like apples, they continue to ripen after you pick them. The color, depending on the ripeness goes like this: green – pink – red – navish purple – nearly black. That’s not all: the insides are similar to those of an apple – if you cut a Saskatoon berry in half and carefully observe its cross-section, you will see that.
Yet, it does taste like a blueberry. To be more precise, it tastes like a mix of both: a blueberry and an apple. A sweet apple. But more fibrous than either. I find that its flavor varies quite a bit from tree to tree. Which is entertaining.
I noticed that the younger the trees, the bigger and the plumpier the berries. Some are huge: as large as the small-sized cherries. Tart cherries I think they are called. Once fully ripen, they become extremely sweet. Almost like raisins. When overripen, they shrivel and dry up right on the shrub (look at the photo below). If you pick them at this stage, I guess they can be stored for a long time without problem.
Since the berries are nice on the tastebuds, they are being cultivated here in Canada, as well as US and Europe. And if you have this flashing in your mind: no, the berry is not named after the Saskatchewan-based city Saskatoon. It’s the other way around: the city is named after the berry. Who would of known.
I don’t know what happened to Alberta nature this year but it’s in serious bloom. The Saskatoons (as I heard one individual call them) made summer in Alberta much more summery this year. After all, the nature is not too generous here in this regard. Their weight slightly pulls the branches down – towards the one who bore them – towards the beautiful Earth…
Health benefits of Saskatoon berries
Same story as for all berries. Really good for you. Natural pills of all kinds of nutrients. Their effects on human body echo those of blueberries and cranberries. Not to get you bored, I’ll go through those nutrients that raw Saskatoons are really high in:
- magnesium. A little less than a cup gives you the daily recommended amount of this mineral
- manganese. A cup provides about half of the suggested daily amount
- riboflavin (vitamin B2). One cup more than the daily amount
- biotin (vitamin B7). A little more than a cup gives you the amount for the whole day
- fiber. Three cups would give you the total amount of fiber (soluble and insoluble) that you are supposed to have in a day. Three cups?! No, not too much. Because they are tasty! I think I’ve had more than that in a day (I know, maybe I shouldn’t – moderation, right?)
That’s not to mean that if you are deviating from the “daily recommended guidelines” you are putting yourself in danger. They are just handy as a set of criteria which you may want to stick half of the time or so. Personally, I take them with a grain of salt.
- an array of various phytochemicals. It’s especially abundant in anthocyanins and flavonols. Anthocyanins is what gives the berries their navish purple colour. It’s a pigment. Saskatoon have more anthocyanins than most other berries such as strawberries, raspberries, seabuckthorn, chokecherry. Together with flavonols, they provide you with a bouquet of tune-ups for the body. Via being the following: antioxidant, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycemic, antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-diabetic, neuroprotective, anti-aging. In plain language, anthocyanins and flavonols work to prevent you from too many electron-hungry radicals, wrong cell cycles, too much inflammation, too much sugar in blood, too many sneaky pathogens, too many grandmas with diabetes, too much damage coming from too much nerve wracking and finally too many reactions that make you look ancient
- as you may be very well aware, berries, in general, are known for their antioxidants. As for Saskatoons, they have higher levels of antioxidants than the majority of other common berries. More than blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and even lesser known is western Canada but antioxidant-rich, bilberry. For this reason, the authors of this 2013 Czeck-Slovak paper call for “popularisation of this pomaceous [apple-like] fruit species for worldwide use even in cooler temperate zones“
How wise native folks used and use it
Take advice from these people. They respected and respect Nature. She, in return, shared many secrets with them. The secrets are preserved and perfected over many many centuries. Read some of them below. These ones are coming from the 2016 Italian-Croatian paper. The authors call this berry a serviceberry, which is close to reality!
North American indigenous people use different parts of the serviceberry plant for several medicinal purposes: in Canada, the fruits are used as juice for treating stomach ailments and as a laxative. Eye- and ear-drops are also prepared from ripe serviceberries (Kershaw, 2000). The boiled bark is used as a disinfectant, while the root infusion is used to prevent miscarriage after an injury (Lim, 2012). Native American communities prepare a tea from the twigs and stem and administer it to women just after childbirth. Moreover, a tonic from the bark is given to women after delivery to hasten discharge of the placenta.
I especially like how the berries are being used for eyes. Will try to put a few drops of the juice in my eyes to see what it does.
If you live in western Canada, in northwestern states or even Alaska, go and forage for some Saskatoons this summer. For the sake of good feelings and friendly anthocyanins! Always bear in your brain though, that bears like berries too! Even if you are within city boundaries, watch out! You don’t want to be sharing the same tree. Despite having a sharp sense of smell, the teddies get so absorbed in this eating business to fatten up for winter that they may not notice you. But, if you feel like continuing living, my friend, it’s better that you notice them first 😉
* You may have noticed that sometimes you can’t access the articles in full. Still, you can read an abstract. I access such articles through the U of C library.